We all have a soundtrack to our lives. There are songs we hear that immediately transport us back to a certain time in our life. These songs are not always considered great by the critics and keepers of pop culture, but they have strong personal feelings. Everybody born before 1980 can sing the first few bars of the song Alex P. Keaton hears when he thinks of Ellen. I had no idea who sang that song, or what it was called. (Billy Vera and the Beaters, At This Moment. Now you know, it that is half the battle.) Music is the closest thing we have to time travel. Sometimes we hear a song, and we are transported to a time long forgotten.
The Cars created some of the greatest memories with their incredible music. The band was able to build these memories by making some of the greatest music to come out in the early 1980's. Ric Ocasek and his sound is iconic, but he was not a solo artist. The Cars were a band who went through many previous incarnations with new members being picked out of other small local bands until an influential sound could be created. Ocasek first picked up bassist Benjamin Orr in Cleveland and headed to Boston. Once in Boston the duo added and subtracted many members until the Cars were formed with Ocasek, Orr, Elliot Easton on guitar, Greg Hawkes on keyboards, and David Robinson on drums. The synth heavy, new wave sound of The Cars helped move the nation away from disco. The bands first two albums, The Cars and Candy-O both brought the band great success, but their eternal greatness was going to be how The Cars music was brought to the masses visually.
On August 1st, 1981 MTV launched and created a new trajectory for popular music. Well regraded musicians who did not have a good look, such as Christopher Cross, were suddenly being left behind. The pretty bands like Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls (???) were now taking over your screens and speakers. The Cars were one of the first bands to understand that great music videos could complement great music. They were already commercially and critically successful with their sound, now The Cars were gaining a new level of fame with their videos. At the very first MTV Video Music Awards, The Cars took home the top prize for their video for "You Might Think".
The Cars already had the great music, they now were considered the best music video artists. Incredible music and mind blowing videos is not how an entire generation will remember The Cars. In 1982 the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High opened and left its mark on all of generation x. Writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling created iconic characters, and produced one particular scene that would hit a bit close to home for many of the audience. (link kind of NSFW). The iconic music used for this memorable scene was the song "Moving in Stereo" by The Cars. Like the Alex Keaton sad song, Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool song has been planted in our brains and created a moment we will never forget. The red bikini, the exit from the pool, the slow walk, the embarrassment, all to the voice and bass of Benjamin Orr with backing from the rest of The Cars. Anyone born before 1980 knows that scene, and they know that song. The Cars created an everlasting memory.
The Cars broke up in the late eighties, and bassist Benjamin Orr succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2000. There have been a few different line-ups touring under The Cars, mostly playing iconic hits from the bands greatest days. In 2010 the living founding members of The Cars reunited, recorded a new album, and went out on tour. It is down right criminal that The Cars have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The keepers of the hall need to correct this oversight. The Cars created a sound for a generation.
In crowning the Greatest American Band, we get caught up in who made the most popular music, and we forget to give credit to the bands that are timeless. The Cars may not be the most popular, although they did pretty good at selling records, but they were unforgettable. When I listen to The Cars Pandora station, there is recognizable hit after hit. The moment "Moving in Stereo" comes on I am transported. Over thirty years later I can feel the excitement, and the embarrassment at the same time. That is true greatness.
RD is the Head Editor for SeedSing. He hopes now that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has no more Beatles to induct, maybe a deserving band like The Cars can get some love. Nominate your Greatest American Band and write for SeedSing.